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Multi-profit Centers

Lobbying for more dollars per car

October 11, 2010
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Full-service carwash customers want to get a good carwash and receive outstanding service. They want entertainment and services to pamper themselves — like valet service and big screen TV.

The full-serve customer also loves to shop. Given a few minutes and a well-stocked store, the carwash customer can become a lobby customer extraordinaire. If you truly want to please your customer, you have to improve your lobby offerings.

Plan well
The most important point in creating and maximizing lobby sales is to look at the space you have, no matter how small, as a retail store. Once you have this mindset you are on your way to making better use of the space and increasing your sales many times over. In this industry some locations look at their lobby space as a little extra money, when in reality (and planned correctly) it is one of your best profit center opportunities.

Most carwash facilities have thousands of customers visiting their location every month and the fact that they are there waiting for several minutes is a great recipe for high profit per square foot.

First, evaluate the demographics of your customer base to know what type of merchandise your store will turnover fastest. Design or redesign this space to make it attractive and inviting. You’ll need a well-lit store and clean shelves and displays that are easy-to-access and browse.

This does not have to be expensive. Plan a budget for design of the space and look around at other businesses to get some creative ideas. Don’t think of it as decorating; your goal is to implement a functional merchandising area that will entice and build sales.

Malls and shopping centers are a good place to look because they have many small unique stores that have learned how to make the best use of space. Look at magazine photos, including articles in carwash trade magazines that show examples of other carwash lobby areas.

Don’t be afraid to explore lobbies and gift stores that aren’t in our industry — hospitals, airports, and highway rest areas are all good examples of businesses that use these spaces to their advantage.

Divide and label
You need a plan that will divide your space into separate product areas to gain the most customer satisfaction. Customers that can find the items they want, and then accompanying and complementing items, will purchase more. You will see an increase in point of purchase sales and the highest profit percentage.

Begin by simply dividing the lobby into departments. Sectioning the store helps you decide which products to offer, lets you know quickly when it’s time to re-order, and makes it easier for your customers to shop.

Some ideas for different areas:
  • Auto accessories;
  • Convenience items;
  • Food/beverage;
  • Gift items;
  • Greeting cards (which should be nearby gift items); and
  • Problem solvers (items your customer might need rather than purchase for fun.)
If these areas are labeled similar to the way a grocery store labels each isle, it will identify the products in that area and increase impulse sales.

Also customers will later remember they have a place to come with a specific need and therefore grow your repeat sales. It also makes your store look attractive and professional.

Variety is the name of the game
The highest producing retailers offer a well-groomed showplace full of different items brought in from different types of vendors. Most carwashes have one main source for stocking their auto accessories section because of the great demand for automotive air fresheners and other automotive products.

In most cases, if you only purchase from one vendor you will pay for it with lower sales. Excite your customers with an awesome offering of products and your will be much more successful.

The best retailers offer a wide variety of completely different items. Offer automotive accessories, gift items, and then offer other specialty lines that are best suited for your customer base. For example, if leather products are big with your customers, shop for unique items that would complement those products.

Regarding gift items, talk to your accessories vendor first, and then search for gift companies online and in your community. You may also want to attend gift markets to search for items and suppliers. You may be very surprised how rewarding taking control of your store will be.

If your vendor has an idea and believes it will work, try it — but only with a full understanding of what it will take to make that product a success. It is important for you and your staff to know the merchandise and help it succeed. But don’t stop there. Always look for new and creative ways to better your store.

Specialize with unique items

Most carwashes have one main source for stocking their auto accessories section because of the great demand for automotive air fresheners and other automotive products.

To really magnify sales with lobby items a carwash lobby should:
  • Offer some items that are different from what is available in auto store chains and discount stores.
    “We are always looking for unique quality items. Every vendor seems to have something new to offer,” said Pamela Rodriguez of Queen’s Chest Boutiques, located in Classic Carwash, Campbell, CA.

  • Don’t be afraid to add displays of specialty products to distinguish your lobby from the usual marketplace.
    Automotive items that your customers won’t see in other types of stores are essential to success.

  • Consider offering different brands of similar items.
    For example, consider products made within the carwash industry that are professional quality items. This type of merchandising will strengthen and grow repeat sales and increase profits. Also, you can create very successful promotions with these items.

  • Use industry products to promote your wash services and include with your premium washes, then let your customer select the item at the check-out area.
    This procedure has become extremely popular in the last year and is currently very successful at thousands of locations. Many of our industry brands have packaged promotional versions of their products perfect for this purpose like interior wipes, air fresheners and various products such as towelettes.

These products are designed with the manufacturer’s original quality of product, but with either less fancy packaging or a smaller quantity of product to lower the cost of the each item.

“We give customers promotional packs with our top wash packages and then they will buy extra,” says Dina Halsey of White Rock Car Bath in Dallas, TX.

This is very good for the business as a whole because you are attaching a lobby item to your car care service and merging the two profit centers. If you have lobby traffic and an imagination there are many things you can do to promote your store items and your car care services.

As you learn to merchandise and get creative, your profits will continue to increase.

Organize for sales
Remember that this is your store, you get to profit from its success and you should choose what to sell or at least be the final decision maker. Therefore, maintaining the carwash lobby should be a task assigned to someone who enjoys it, will take it very seriously and will enjoy communicating and dealing with vendors to provide assistance.

Major department stores and retailers take their buying very seriously and have learned the more they do so, the more profitable they become. So organize a buying procedure to carefully review products submitted and to find new items. This will save time in the long run handling sales calls and keep you from overlooking great opportunities. More importantly this will make your sales flourish.

Have a reorder procedure

Replenish, refresh and restock so that your reordering procedures are always followed and follow your vision. It is important to establish permanent do’s and don’ts with your vendors and your employees of how you want things done and what your expectations of each are. Both need to know that you take this store seriously.

Displays should never be empty or even half-empty — especially if the display offers a variety of choices of the same product, such as different scents or colors of air fresheners. Full displays look attractive, draw attention and therefore produce more sales. It is important to have a pre-determined understanding with stocking vendors about how to keep lobby items properly stocked and the overall design you prefer.

It is also good to let your vendors know if there are certain lobby items that are of bad taste, or an image that is not preferred in your location. Lobby items can be extremely profitable if there is a procedure in place that limits time, inventory and risk, while also allowing for growth in sales.

Be patient with products
New products do not always sell out the first month.

Allow the time and opportunity for customers to rotate through the lobby so items are viewed on more than one or two occasions.

If you believe it is a good product create ways to draw attention to it. Even really good products can take a while to catch on and you are the one that benefits when it succeeds.

Ken Sinclair has been national sales manager for Wonder Wafers International, formerly Arabesque Fragrances Mfg., Fort Worth, TX, for more than 20 years. He can be reached anytime at 1-800-826-6338 or